Looking back – and forwards

Not much to say on the renovations this week – but then that’s great news!

Our four fledged offspring have, to our delight, come to North Wales along with Uncle Tim to celebrate Christmas with us.  We have eaten too much of the wrong types of foods and had the occasional tipple, but are otherwise emerging relatively unscathed from the celebrations.

Our holiday opening hours
Our holiday opening hours


We have kept the café open every day except Christmas Day, although we had a slight glitch today when the unexpected surge of interest over lunch time meant one group of walkers had to wait longer for their lunch than we would have wished and which we wholeheartedly regret.  We will be grateful when Jane returns from her well earned holiday!

Domestically, we enjoyed 4 days with the full family party of seven.  Yesterday, Tim and Mike visited Blaenau Ffestiniog for a trip on the railway…

The age of steam continues...
The age of steam continues…

… and today he departed for deepest darkest Devon, and tomorrow Will departs to return to his favourite big city of Sheffield.

Over the next few days, we will not be progressing the building works – but I will be drawing up my garden plans every moment I can find.

In the café, Welsh conversation may be available on Thursday afternoon (if anyone else arrives),  and then our next event is the band Jabberwocky on 7th January.


Feel free to book your tickets now – or reserve places for our next Quiz Night on Saturday 18th February.


Labyrinth progress to report

As we approach the Christmas holidays, our progress on the refurbishments might be thought to slacken, but I am happy to report that the last three days have been pretty busy.

Task one has been to decorate the Christmas tree which was heroically dragged into the house by Mike and Tim.  Unfortunately, the photos don’t really do it justice, but our seasonal hemlock is now liberally sprinkled with lights, baubles, tinsel and lametta.

It's beginning to look a lot like a Christmas tree
It’s beginning to look a lot like a Christmas tree

Task two has been the installation of a ‘draft’ labyrinth.  A group of labyrinth enthusiasts arrived this Tuesday to create a Chartres labyrinth from blocks and then walk it.  The weather forecast had been for showers but happily the skies remained clear during our activities.  Mike and I are very grateful for the hard work of Stuart, Vince, Chris and Heather along with that of Tomas, Adrian, Tim and Will alongside us to move the blocks to the lower level and then to lay them out.



..seems to be working so far...
..seems to be working so far…


..on your marks...
..making real progress now…

We plan to leave the blocks in this pattern until conditions are appropriate for us to fix these permanently in place and infill with a suitable material so that the labyrinth path becomes one height , making it more suitable for all-weather use.

All finished
All finished – for now…


and in case you want to see it without people


Task three was to finish the fire door installation.  Mike managed to finish the last little bits this afternoon, so we can now turn our attention to the Christmas tasks ahead.

You may not believe me, but….

we have had an unusual problem over the last few days and, as one who always plays her cards close to her chest, I thought I would share our ridiculous story with the world.

Mike installed the fire door on Friday (whilst I was at Welsh classes – Nadolig llawen to all), having trimmed what we thought was a suitable amount from the bottom of the door, and he was pleased with the accurate fit.  There are very strict rules about the gap allowed between a fire door and the surroundings, and Mike had got these right first time – yippee!  Only one tiny hiccough – when he rolled the coir matting back into place (having rolled this out of the way whilst fiddling with and fitting the door) the door couldn’t be opened properly due to the thickness of this matting. We really didn’t want to remove any more from the bottom of the door since it would then have too great a gap at the base once the door closed (as this sits behind the coir matting).  Cue much scratching of heads and feeble attempts to open the door with the expectation that this time, having changed nothing, it might inexplicably open smoothly.  Well, first we tried trimming the pile with hair clippers.  Result – coir matting simply compressed under the clippers.  Next, we tried scissors, which might have worked except the angle of the blades to the fibres was all wrong and we don’t have any of the scissor-type things with the handles higher than the blades.  Next we tried a scalpel to see if we could just chop the height away – no dice at all.  So in desperation we tried a router.  That had some effect, but tended to push too much pile out of the way rather than trim it off.  We then tried a belt sander.  Can you believe it?  A belt sander to lessen the pile.

Would you Adam and Eve it? Sanding the door mat?
Would you Adam and Eve it? Sanding the door mat?

Madness – and also (almost) completely ineffective.  So we had a quick consultation with Jane (the cook) and, having talked through the problem and bemoaned the lack of accessible advice on Google (one can only assume other folk do not have similar problems installing their fire doors) we stumbled on a possible solution.  And I am happy to report that, having put the power planer over the matting a few times, we have now trimmed a patch of the coir matting sufficiently that the door will close!

So whilst I feel totally daft having to report our unorthodox activities, I am pleased to report the fire door is in situ and working well.  Tim arrived for the Christmas break just as we finished all of this, so at least we didn’t have an audience to our weirdness.

Today’s story showcasing our move from balanced reasonableness to total absurdity is slightly different.  After returning from church, I persuaded Mike and Uncle Tim to frisk the grounds for a Christmas tree.  I should explain that we have a number of conifers growing on site which the forestry chap from Snowdonia National Park had asked us to remove because they are non-native species.  We have therefore decided to use one of these, whether or not it is a pine, for our ‘home’ Christmas tree this year.  We have a reasonable size Norway Spruce culled from the garden in the cafe, and I was expecting something similar but perhaps a little taller for the old manor part of the property.

The proud lumberjack with his haul...
The proud lumberjack with his haul…

So imagine my surprise when I walked into the hallway to find the hemlock (below) already erected

...and hoping this photo shows that it is tall enough to almost reach the ceiling above the stairs!
…and hoping this photo shows that it is tall enough to almost reach the ceiling above the stairs…


or maybe this one gives a better sense of size?
Does this one give a better sense of size?

I will try to put up a photo in a day or two, once we have finished trimming (as in really trimming, with secateurs and all) and then decorating it.  But this may take longer than we had originally planned!




Beginning the countdown…

Unusually, tonight I will start with an advert, in case I forget to tell you later.  Forthcoming events currently known are: (a) 20th December, from 12 noon, we will be building a labyrinth on site; (b) 7th January 2017, Jabberwocky will play various hits from the 1970’s onwards; and (c) 18th February 2017, Quiz Night.  This all came to mind as I was trying to work out how many posts are still to happen before Christmas, and got slightly diverted.

So clearly I have spent vast amounts of time preparing for Christmas…or perhaps not.  In fact I have spent the last week drafting labels as advised by local Trading Standards for some products we plan to supply to other businesses; steaming the paper off one bedroom ceiling; clearing the labyrinth site ready for next Tuesday; and other thrilling domestic chores.  The highlight was yesterday when we dismantled a tatty old cabinet in what I guess you could call the scullery.  The ceiling above the cabinet had been leaking since we arrived (and quite probably for several years before that), but the cabinet made it difficult to get the collecting buckets into the best drip-catching positions.

Now you can't see it - space where cabinet used to stand
Now you can’t see it – space where cabinet used to stand
and with the un-supported ceiling having been pulled down (thanks Mike - not drafty at all now)
and with the un-supported ceiling having been pulled down (thanks Mike – not draughty at all now)

We forgot to take a photo before my destructive urges were given their head, but you can see we have now pulled down that part of the ceiling that had previously been propped up on random bits of wood.  With no cabinet-type clutter, we now have a sporting chance of catching the drips more effectively.

Mike, on the other hand, has been plaster boarding, insulating and then plastering the surround for the new fire door-to-be in the corridor by the cafe entrance.

Stud wall nearly ready
Stud wall nearly ready


 . . . now insulated...
. . . now insulated…
and now suitably plastered
and now suitably plastered

He has also been  shopping with me (I had to cash in brownie-point tokens to get this to happen); finished the Christmas letter I drafted back in November; started writing the cards; and stacked lots of bricks ready to move them to the labyrinth site for Tuesday.

All in all, not a bad few days.  Must be time to sit down and prepare for Welsh class tomorrow… perhaps I should tell them about the elf who arrived at Welsh conversation this afternoon?   And only 3 blog posts to go before the big day!


Water water everywhere – but then this is North Wales

It has been raining pretty steadily lately.  Below are some pictures showing the river Lledr at the edge of our garden now it has returned to its more turbulent self:

White water rafting anyone?
White water rafting anyone?



View of river from the garden
Same view of the river, taken in August this year – notice how the rocks have become submerged!

Today, a tale of boiler woe.  Gary (our boiler man) has been back to look at the old boiler, which we have not been able to re-start since we ran out of heating oil a couple of weeks ago.  Funny story – it turns out that, according to Gary, just before we ran out of oil, it is probable that some dirty oil fed through from the bottom of the oil tank.  This created an excess of smoke when it burned, which began to block the (new) flue.  We had been warned that the new flue would create smells as it bedded in, so we hadn’t been particularly worried when a bad smell started which we now guess was caused by this smokey discharge.  Long story short – it looks like when the smokey residue got substantial enough to block the flue,  pressure built up and  then blew out an old repair none of us had known about (despite Gary having previously tested the boiler).  Fortunately, Gary has nowfound this void, deep in the bowels of the boiler, and can repair it in the next week or so.  I guess it just illustrates why we are replacing almost everything: at least if the item is new, we feel we can reasonably expect it to work for longer than a month or two before breaking down.  We are hopeful that this repair will leave us with full boiler capacity for Christmas which will be a comfort for our family guests!

You can just see Jean inspecting the new stud wall to support a fire door which will protect the new staircase (when it goes in)
You can just see Jean inspecting the new stud wall to support a fire door which will protect the new staircase (when it goes in)


Mike has continued to work on installing the new fire door, but has been slightly held back by the need to prepare for our inaugural quiz night last night, which has also kept me busy, in addition to working on my Welsh and shopping for Lobscouse ingredients and mulled wine for last night.

On our festive quiz night, we had 6 teams competing for the various prizes.  The evening seemed to go well – certainly we enjoyed ourselves and hope everyone else did too – and we also thank everyone for making it such a fun event.  The photo is of Anna whose flashing jumper won her the “best Christmas jumper” round.  It was her idea to hold up the publicity picture over her face – honest!


Winner of the best Christmas jumper, being shy
Winner of the best Christmas jumper, being shy

Festivities start here…

We have installed a Christmas tree and finished putting up the decorations in the café, to help us all get into the Christmas spirit.

Ready for the festivities
Ready for the festivities

The really big news over the last few days is – I have caught a cold!  You know, one of those real ones that make you feel hibernation would be a far preferable way to get through the cold months.  How is it that the headache persists despite repeated doses of paracetamol?  Not that I am one to complain…

On Sunday night we visited Betws-y-Coed to catch up with some of the Nadolig celebrations.  They had a brilliant drumming band with drummers so enthusiastic that I suspect many of the onlookers would have loved to have joined them at their next practice sessions.  They also had a super fireworks display afterwards so, all in all, a top evening.


And their recycled Christmas tree was certainly worth a second look

starring pre-used fizzy drink bottles
starring pre-used fizzy drink bottles

On the work front, I have continued to strip wallpaper from the walls and some of the ceilings in rooms to be refurbished next year, with only a slight delay when the wallpaper stripper stopped working.  I mean, we have only had it since Newmarket which means it is only about 25 years old – what are things coming to?  I also started to fill the linen cupboard as a bit of light relief from the decorating.

Mike has cut many loads of logs and stacked these in the dry so we should be able to keep warm over Christmas.  When I returned from shopping yesterday, I found Mike had made a start on installing the next fire door so the work rota for the rest of the week appears to have been set and we will soon have completely finished the entrance lobby.



I don't think Jasper looks too happy with his jingling collar...
I don’t think Jasper looks too happy with his jingling collar courtesy of Anna…


So just a quick reminder for those living locally – Quiz Night this Friday evening – hope you can make it!

The stripping has begun

Sending you a slightly late welcome to December and all the joys it can bring.  I haven’t quite got around to putting up the tinsel in the cafe yet, but aim to do so over the weekend if I can get my other chores done.

Who would have thought that a few shelves could generate so much joy?

Mike, bless his cotton socks, has put the finishing touches on the construction of our linen cupboard, so I was able to prime the new bits earlier today.  You probably have no idea how excited I am that within the next 4 days (undercoat, top coat, 1 day to dry, 1 day to fill) I will have a serviceable linen store for the first time in nearly a year!!!

I started stripping the wallpaper from the ‘outside’ walls on floor 2 above the cafe yesterday, December 1st, as we make a start on the next major plank of the refurbishment project.  I will leave the internal walls until we receive the plans, at which point I will know whether the wall is for stripping or due for demolition.  Adrian arrived to help this afternoon, after my Welsh class this morning, so we spent much of our time trying to discuss what we planned to do this Christmas (Nadolig) or where we will go on our holidays, since these themes form much of my surprisingly limited vocabulary at the moment.  I won’t bore you with photos of stripped walls for now – that will come later!

Mike has almost finished lagging the pipes in the boiler room.  We can tell this will be effective, as we no longer feel the urge to remove many layers of clothing as we walk past the door to this room.

On the more domestic front, Mike and I visited an auction house in Colwyn Bay on Monday for the pre-sale viewing, and are delighted that we seem to have found somewhere auctioning the kind of furniture we hope to use when refurbishing the manor sections.  We also enjoyed a guided tour of a local 5 star B&B (Tyn y Fron) which benefits from magnificent views and very welcoming hosts Barbara and Nigel.

Yesterday, I managed my first visit to our Welsh conversation sessions with coffee (and free lemon drizzle cake this week) running on Thursday afternoons and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  We had two conversations running for much of the hour, with the beginners (me) asking the questions we have been practising in our classes, and the more experienced speakers enjoying what sounded like a far more normal conversation.

Before I relax into weekend mode, I am posting some photos taken over the last couple of days which show a slight contrast from the autumnal colours snapped so recently:

The regular view, for comparison
The regular view, for comparison




Oh, and I nearly forgot:  As you can see below, Stuart has visited and marked out some concentric circles on the labyrinth base, so that we can see what may or may not fit.  The random blobs are plants I moved down to this lower garden a month or so ago, and really must deal with soon.  On December 20th, starting at 12 noon, we are holding a labyrinth day, so that gives me about 2 weeks to get around to it.  No pressure then…

A possible design being tried on the labyrinth base
The beginnings of a possible design being tried on the labyrinth base